The Demise of Religious Freedom in America
Before I speak about the ominous trends in America to curtail freedom of speech, let me tell you about Dr. Charles H. McVety, president of Canada Christian College in Toronto, whose television program was removed from the air because he had the temerity to preach against homosexuality. Later, he was allowed back on television, but now he has to submit his program to the Canadian Broadcast Standard Council every Wednesday for review by the censors on Thursday, and then, if approved, can be broadcast on Sunday. As far as I know this panel does not rule on programs that are immoral or violent, just on those that dare to be politically incorrect, such as a minister who believes the Bible and therefore opposes same-sex marriage.
Closer to home in our great United States, hate speech laws and recent court rulings seek to restrict our right to believe, preach, and practice one’s religious convictions (hate speech, someone said, is simply whatever the leftists among us hate to hear!) The supposed line of “separation between church and state” means that God must stay on His side of the line in our country’s education, politics, law, science, and workplaces. Beware if you live out your religion in the so-called public square, because you just might find yourself slapped with a lawsuit.
Here is the irony: the censurers, the radicals who are all too ready to deny freedom to those who disagree with them, are perceived in our culture as “tolerant,” and we, who want to express our views, are viewed as “intolerant.” In other words, the philosophy of the left is preach tolerance, but practice inflexible intolerance to anyone who has the courage to express a different point of view.
Here is but one example: Angela McCaskill was suspended as an administrator from Gallaudet University for signing a petition to put Maryland’s same-sex legislation on a November ballot. In other words, even an innocuous act, such as allowing the electorate to decide the question of same-sex marriage, is enough for one to be suspended. Incredibly, the university justified its decision because of its view of tolerance! What they were saying was: we exercise tolerance by censuring anyone who does not agree with our point of view!
The loss of our freedoms can take an unusual twist. The lawsuit Christian Legal Society v. Martinez arose when Hastings University insisted that The Christian Legal Society could not require its leaders to adhere to a certain set of beliefs and behaviors, but it had to be open to all students, without discrimination. This means, among other things, that an atheist could become president of The Christian Legal Society on campus. This action on the part of the university is a denial of freedom of association and the free exercise of religion. The notion that student groups at the university can have no religious, political, or moral requirements for leadership defies common sense and defeats the very purpose of such groups.
The list of cases where religious rights are being marginalized is endless. If the present trends continue, we must prepare ourselves for a dark and challenging future. Thankfully, we can face the future with confidence that God is with us. The Church in other eras has been here before.
What you need to know about today’s “Religious Freedom.”
In the Q&A section below, Dr. Lutzer addresses some critical issues regarding the assault on religious freedom in America.
Q: Recently, we’ve heard the ruling that a Christian baker must bake a cake for same-sex couples to avoid fines, and similarly, a photographer must take pictures at a same-sex wedding to avoid being charged with discrimination. How is this different from saying that homosexuals and same-sex couples should be served in restaurants, etc.?
A: The difference is this: we would all agree that homosexuals should be served in restaurants and in similar venues. But baking a cake or being the photographer for a wedding is a participatory—or even better—a celebratory act that indicates approval, and a rejoicing with the couple to be married. Whether a Christian does or does not agree to give these services to same-sex couples should remain a matter of conscience and not be decided by law.
Most distressing is the exception that is made for followers of Islam. Star Transport, a trucking company in Morton, IL, was sued for violating federal law for terminating two Muslim drivers, who on religious grounds, refused to drive a truck that transported alcohol.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explained, “Everyone has a right to observe his or her religious beliefs and employers don’t get to pick and choose which religions and which religious practices they will accommodate.” So, there you have it: the religious beliefs of Muslims may be accommodated; the beliefs of Christians must not.
Q: Many evangelicals refuse to speak to their congregations about these matters, but you do. What is your philosophy regarding the involvement of the church in such matters?
A: Yes, some of my evangelical pastor friends would never speak about these matters publicly for fear that they would be setting up barriers for those that they wish to reach for Christ. And I understand that, since anyone who speaks about these concerns is immediately branded as “a right wing radical” or worse. However, there is a balance that must be maintained. I call it “redemptive involvement.” We must always lead with the Cross, but must speak about these issues if we are thoroughly biblical.
Q: What else bothers you about some pastors, particularly those who have mega-churches and are known as “seeker friendly?”
A: I’m going to tread carefully here. Certainly none of us want to pastor a church that is known as “seeker unfriendly.” So, in one sense to be seeker friendly is fine, but the problem is that in many cases it is this philosophy that shapes the pastor’s preaching and the whole stance of the congregation. Sermons are often reduced to “feel good” messages that would never biblically address the topic of homosexuality, the false teachings of Islam, or the doctrinal deceptions of other religions. Nor would it tackle the distortions of the Gospel seen on many television programs.
Preaching to felt needs is fine, but we have to help the congregation understand what its real felt needs are. For example, standing in the presence of a holy God, our greatest felt need at that moment will be for the righteousness of Christ.
Q: Returning to the matter of religious freedom. What should we do to prepare for the continuing attacks against Christianity in our culture?
A: That is both an important and huge question. For every Christian the answer will be different, but minimally what we must do is, first, give thanks to God for the opportunity to live at this hour of history and prove the faithfulness of God to His people. Secondly, we must courageously and lovingly witness to Christ among our families, neighbors, and friends, and wherever we have influence. We must also support those organizations that are fighting our legal battles, which is really where the conflict comes in our culture. And finally, let’s realize that America has fallen too far for us to “turn it around.” We have lost the so-called culture war. We must repent of our sins and cry out to God for mercy and for divine intervention. Whether or not God chooses to turn this country around, He will be with us as we live out our faith—even if it means death.